Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 20th November 2007.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I have just returned from the middle east, where I spoke to Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians about the contribution that the UK can make to progress towards a lasting two-state solution. Tomorrow, I will join Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and other ministerial colleagues for the state visit to Uganda and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, whose agenda will focus on climate change, international development, education and the situation in Pakistan.

Photo of John Mann John Mann PPS (Rt Hon Tessa Jowell, Minister of State), Cabinet Office

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the positive cross-party and Government work done on anti-Semitism in this country. He will also be aware that anti-Semitism is not just a British problem but one that is growing across the European Union. Will he be prepared to consider how he can best raise the matter with ministerial colleagues from other European countries?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I certainly will. I can also say that when I recently met representatives of American Jewish groups in New York, they said that they recognised last year's parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism as an absolute landmark—not only in this country, but globally—for the sort of investigation and vigilance that are so important. I am happy to ensure that all EU colleagues know of the work done by that cross-party parliamentary group and to look at ways in which we can follow it up. I know that my hon. Friend and colleagues recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. We will certainly be happy to take the issue forward in any sensible way.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

On Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary circulated a speech in which he called for the creation of an EU military capabilities charter. On Thursday, when he delivered the speech, all references to this had been removed, apparently by the Prime Minister. Is the Foreign Secretary in favour of a military capabilities charter, or not?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I can only think that the right hon. Gentleman did not read the speech that I put out on Thursday. If he looks at the section on defence, he will see that it says, first, that we need to enhance the capabilities of European nations in respect of defence issues; secondly, that we need to co-ordinate them better so that when we work with NATO we do so in a sensible way; and thirdly, that we need to ensure that European forces are used in a preventive way. That seems to me to be an utterly sensible thing to do.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I think that that roughly translates as, "Not any more", and that the Foreign Secretary was muzzled by the Prime Minister, which at least gives him something that he can recommend to his wise eminence, Lord Malloch-Brown, from time to time. Instead of unseemly accusations of disloyalty and destabilising each other being flung between No. 10 and the Foreign Office in the weekend press, is it not vital that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary make a joint effort on many of the issues facing the nation? For instance, will they, in the coming days, seek to ensure as a matter of urgency that a senior single co-ordinating figure is appointed in Afghanistan for the international aid and reconstruction effort so that tactical successes there do not turn into strategic failure?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

As the Prime Minister said in his statement last week, we are certainly committed to improving the co-ordination of forces in Afghanistan; in fact, that idea is being developed actively at the moment and will come to fruition. However, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that this time last week he set out in the Queen's Speech debate the new Conservative policy on the European treaty, and within one hour his own leader had rubbished his statement. [ Interruption. ] Oh yes—I look forward to discussing it with him. On this side of the House, we agree our speeches in advance rather than having to correct them afterwards.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary share my concern that to date there has been no compromise leader appointed for Lebanon? What is he doing about that?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Last night, I was rung by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has recently been in Lebanon. The impending crisis four days before the election of a new president is a very serious concern, not least given the dangers that it poses to the wider middle east peace process. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue. On Sunday night in Jerusalem, I met my colleague, the French Foreign Minister, who was going back to Beirut for the second time in a week to try to work on the issue. I assure my hon. Friend that, with our ambassador there, we are working on it too.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC (Leader of the House of Commons)), Leader of the House of Commons

Over the past few years, President Putin has made it virtually impossible for anybody to launch a new political party in Russia, and he has made it much more difficult for smaller parties to get elected to the Duma by raising the threshold from 5 per cent. to 7 per cent. He has also closed every single independent television station in Russia. Now, he has made it more difficult for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to monitor the elections in December. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to come to the conclusion that those elections will be neither free nor fair and that Russia is, dangerously and sadly, flirting with totalitarianism again.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very disappointing that the OSCE observer mission has not been able to take up its opportunity to visit Russia to act as independent and impartial technical observers of the Duma elections. It is clear that the democratic space in Russia has shrunk over recent years. The space for civic society and the media to operate freely has decreased. We will continue to press for a modern Russia that conforms to modern democratic international norms, which would involve full access for the OSCE without inhibitions being put in place by the Russian authorities.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of Kosovo and the Balkans? In the event of Kosovo achieving independence, it would be extremely difficult to explain to those in Republika Srpska, let alone the Albanians in Macedonia or the Abkhazians, that they should not do the same. In his earlier reply, he suggested that the answer to ensuring the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to enhance the authority of the high representative. What other steps has he taken to produce contingency plans for the region to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina stays in one piece and stays at peace?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am happy to address that point, but for the record, I said that we have to back up the high representative's authority. We are not making proposals to enhance it, as the hon. Gentleman puts it. The best thing that we can do is undertake practical projects such as police reform. That is a major issue in Bosnia, and it is sensible to take such action before a crisis rather than afterwards.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

Given that it has been reported that the Chinese authorities are to offer a $5 billion credit line to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in return for mineral rights without any apparent conditions, will my right hon. Friend indicate our concerns to the Chinese Government about the need for proper conditions regarding governance and corporate accountability when dealing with the exploitation of minerals?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on that issue in general, and on the specific issue of attacks on women in that country. I can confirm that we are working with all international partners to ensure that our aid policies are targeted at the right people and that they support the right rather than the wrong actions.

Photo of Derek Wyatt Derek Wyatt PPS (Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I am a great fan of Joseph Nye's work on soft power. At some stage, Mugabe will fall in Zimbabwe. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that we will have a diplomatic solution on a "soft power" basis in Zimbabwe when Mugabe does fall?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Perhaps my hon. Friend is referring to the need for economic reconstruction in Zimbabwe. That is impossible while President Mugabe is pursuing completely wrong-headed policies that have plunged the country into the chaos of 8,000 per cent. and now 14,000 per cent. inflation. I can confirm that as soon as there is a sensible Government in Zimbabwe, we will want to work with them not just on economic issues, but on broader social and political reconstruction.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

On Friday, the opposition Iranian organisation the People's Mujaheddin of Iran will learn if it is to be removed from the European Union's list of proscribed organisations. If it is, will the Secretary of State remove it from our own list?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

This issue is sub judice at the moment, and it is therefore very difficult to comment on it. In general, I can say that, across the House, we deplore any terrorist activities by any organisation.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Conservative, Altrincham and Sale West

What representations have Ministers made to other EU Governments with the aim of blocking proposals for an EU food-labelling regime that would reduce customer information, not increase it?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe)

It is a silly proposal, and we will not be supporting it.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

The European Union is currently funding fuel supplies to Gaza. If the Israeli Government go ahead with their proposal to reduce fuel supplies by 20 per cent., in contravention of international humanitarian law, would the Foreign Secretary be satisfied that that continued EU funding was consistent with EU law?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I will certainly look into the legal issue that my hon. Friend raises, but the basic humanitarian issue, which is the need for the people in Gaza to be able to keep body and soul together, is essential and is at the forefront of our minds in discussions throughout the EU and in the region.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Will the Foreign Secretary take every opportunity that Kampala offers to talk to African Heads of Government and to persuade them of what an appalling regime Mugabe is running in Zimbabwe? It is far, far worse than anything that exists in Pakistan.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

There is no question about that; I am happy to provide that confirmation to the hon. Gentleman. I am confident that I will go there with the unanimous view of the House that the situation in Zimbabwe is not just an appalling tragedy, but a preventable one. President Mugabe's role in that affair needs to be at the forefront of our minds.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Labour, Islwyn

Veterans of the Malaysia campaign are allowed to accept the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal, but not wear it on public occasions such as Remembrance Sunday. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has responsibility in this area, does he agree that the decision of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals is unjust, and will he intervene to overturn it?


Thanks again Don for your continued support

Submitted by John Cooper Read 1 more annotation

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am happy to take up the issue that my right hon. Friend raises. Granting the medal was an important step forward, which has been widely welcomed. However, I shall certainly look into the matter.


With all due respect to Mr Milliband, who is new to the office, we Veterans have been promised several times that "I will look...

Submitted by Gerald Law Continue reading (and 13 more annotations)

Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of my correspondence with the Department about the case of my constituent, Grace Ciliberto, whose son was abducted to Dubai, despite being the ward of an English court. Although I accept that normal consular advice was given, will the Foreign Secretary explain why no top level diplomatic contact has been made with the Dubai authorities to get Mrs. Ciliberto's son returned to this country? Will he meet me to discuss the matter?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

It would be wrong to discuss the details of an individual case on the Floor of the House, but I—or one of my hon. Friends—will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to go through them.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham PPS (Mr Mike O'Brien, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

What assistance is my right hon. Friend giving to Bangladesh to cope with the flooding disaster?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am sure that all hon. Members viewed the situation in Bangladesh with horror. The matter obviously falls to the Department for International Development and its emergency relief contingency plans. However, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend and place in the Library clear details of the way in which the UK Government are responding. I assure him that, on a diplomatic level, we are in touch with the caretaker Government in Bangladesh to ensure that everything possible is being done to support them.